Friday, April 30, 2010
**Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart at Maya Made: I'm drooling over this and can't wait to make it.
**Totally Adorable Felt Food at Homemade by Jill: Awesome handmade play food including such goodies as ravioli, bacon, and snow peas. She also includes tons of links to play food sewing patterns and inspiration.
**Block Figurines at How About Orange: This is actually a post about block figurines made by an artist, but I think these would be a totally fun DIY project with the chicks when they're a little older.
--The Hen and the Chicks
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I'm one of those parents who proudly displays their kids' artwork on the wall; it's as much for me as it is for the kids. I truly believe that they benefit in multiple ways from seeing their work displayed prominently, rather than just being attached to the fridge with a magnet. There's the obvious self-esteem component--it feels good to know your art is deemed worthy of display. But another, less obvious factor is the inspiration it provides the kids while they are working on later art projects. Our dining room is also our art center (and our workstation, our baking counter, our planting counter, etc....). Art hangs on one wall, across from that is a bookcase full of kids' activity books, and the third wall (there are only three) is our art supply station. While we create art in other spaces (like on their "kid table" or outside), the bulk of the art is made here, and it's an inspiring space for them.
Up until a month ago, the art wall was above the art supplies and looked like this:
I got to a point when I could not take it anymore, and one night at 10:30 PM I impulsively pulled everything down and put up a display on another wall. I drilled four screws into the wall, two on each side for the two display lines. Then I took a sturdy wool yarn and wrapped it around one of the left screws a bunch of times until it was very secure, and I pulled it across to the other side as tightly as possible. I then wrapped it around that screw several times, tucked it in, and trimmed it. My goal was to have a straight line, but with yarn and heavy art, that's impossible. I came close enough to feel satisfied. The art is currently hanging with clothespins, but I'd like to switch them out for black or silver butterfly clips one day. Since the clothespins were already here, they were free, so they won out.
I hung a selection of recent and/or favorite pieces on the two lines. Now, instead of covering every available square inch of the wall with art, I switch them out as we make new things. It looks much, much neater, it doesn't stress me out, and I realized that with fewer pieces, we actually admire them more. There's less visual clutter, and we can really see the few select pieces that are there. It's also much easier to change the art when it's simply clothespinned to a length of yarn than it is to rip down the tape (and then remove the tape to store the art).
As is recommended by Susan Striker in her wonderful book Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art, I save every single piece of art. It seems nuts, I know, but it's far less of a big deal than you might think. I have a ton of old accordion files from old financial documents and from when I was teaching, and I just label them for the kid and the year. I've been able to squeeze more than one year into a file, and we do a ton of art. At most, this will fill up a box or two in the basement storage. Yes, it takes up space, but the chicks will be able to look through when they are older and keep their favorite pieces without my making that decision for them. I think it will also be nice for them to see how their work has progressed as they get older. I write the chick's name and age on the back of the piece. If it's too big for the file, I fold it; that's not great, but it's still better than throwing it in the recycling.
If you look closely at the bottom of the "before" photo, you'll get a glimpse of a hideously unorganized pile of art supplies. In one of my most enjoyable de-cluttering and organizing moments, I overhauled that last week. Because the before and after shots are so delightful to my nerdy self, I'll post about that, and how we handle art supplies, later this week.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
This is the sort of thing that deeply disturbs me about this climate. Yesterday I was doing yard work in a short sleeved shirt. Today, I woke up to large, weighty, accumulating snowflakes.
The chicks spent the day in their pajamas. Everyone was crabby and uninterested in the usual indoor activities. Out of desperation, I made Bojey this "slot" toy--a basket with a piece of paper taped around it with a slit (reinforced with packing tape) cut into the top with an exacto knife. Her job was to press poker chips into it. Using a slot machine is an important life skill, right?
While I attempted to cook dinner and the chicks played with their lentil bin, my neighbor downstairs called and told me to look out the window at her kids. I peeked, and there they were, under the falling snow, playing in the mud--literally covered from head to toe, like mud wrestlers, slipping and sliding all over the place. Enter the cause of the mommy guilt I am feeling right now: while I could have gone into the basement to take out the packed-away snow pants and winter coats and allowed my dirt and mud-loving children to join in, I instead quietly backed away from the window and pretended there was nothing to report. We're still in the middle of our spring cleaning week (dragged out from my original intended weekend), and I can't bear the thought of making even more work for myself right now. Not my best mommy moment, but I'll blame it on the weather...
**In January we got serious about our compost
**In February we attempted to stop using the clothes dryer
**In March we started to work towards eating seasonally
**In April we worked on trash reduction
I'm really happy we participated. We weren't perfect, but that's to be expected; we're definitely doing better on all counts. I was very inspired when reading about the different changes people made, and if you haven't gone over to the site and read about it, you should take a look. Every month I agonized over what to choose, and every time, after posting, I'd click over and see a ton of great ideas from other people that I hadn't even thought of.
Happy Late Earth Day, and thanks for joining us for our Small Changes! We're still very much a work in progress, in particular when it comes to seasonal eating, but this project certainly helped me feel motivated to make more of an effort.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I do, however, like the chicks to bring as much nature indoors as possible, so about a year ago, we started keeping a "nature bowl." In keeping with the natural aesthetic, it's a wooden bowl we bought from the Salvation Army. Whenever the chicks find something cool out in nature, we bring it home and they put it in the bowl. The occasional larger things, like Ninna's beloved huge piece of tree bark, go on a shelf somewhere, or, if it's a huge stick, it waits outside the front or back door.
I've been really happy with this. We keep the bowl on the dining room table, and the chicks frequently empty its contents during in-between times at the table.
Since I wanted to clean it out and remove the random detritus anyway, I set out the collection for all to see. Here it is, organized in a way that makes my organizer heart oh-so-happy:
And here are a few favorite pieces. The snail shell:
The perfect pine cone:
I do realize that it might be slightly gross to have the shell of a dead snail and germy bird feathers in a bowl on our kitchen table, but when I watch Bojey eat sand and pill bugs outside, I realize that these things are perfectly fitting at the table for our family.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
We began the project early in the day with a hunt for the right stick. Being a bit of a Harry Potter fan (not a total Harry Potter nerd, mind you, just a fan...), I thought it was essential for us to use real wood for the wands. We found a stick in the yard of the perfect width, and long enough for two wands. I sawed it in half and quickly sanded down the rough parts.
For the making of the wands, I first poked a hole in each one between two petals with a screwdriver so we could easily insert the wand part. Then, the chicks painted them, using their choice of colors:
They started out with blues, purples, and pinks, and eventually Ninna asked for black. I found myself taking a slow breath in and reminding myself that I really, really didn't want to say "are you sure? Are you sure you want black? It doesn't really go with a flower fairy magic wand." And, phew, I was able to keep my mouth shut! And, like always, Ninna's colors, while not what I would have chosen, ended up looking great on the final product.
After painting them, we coated them with glitter (of course). When they were dry, the chicks chose pieces of ribbon from the craft supplies. I filled the hole with tacky glue, layed the ribbons over the hole, and then poked the stick into the hole, pushing in the ribbons. Now that they've dried, they're pretty sturdy, but I think we might mod podge them just to make them even better.
This was a really fun project, and I could see making different ones in the future with salvaged styrofoam from packaging cut into fun, seasonal shapes.
Friday, April 16, 2010
All Things Garden: A DIY Guide at the How to Gal: She has some great links to really fun-looking repurposed planters, including a hanging shoe organizer.
Cinnamon Sugar Twists at The Idea Room: These look delicious! I can't wait to make them.
Family Mail at Let's Explore: This is a really fun idea for exchanging "mail" at home. So far I'm the only person in the home who can actually write, but Ninna draws pictures for me and Bojey all the time, and I think she'd love to put them in a mailbox (and to receive things herself.)
Yes, I'm writing two posts in a row about my trash. It will annoy me if I'm not caught up; I'll post a fun art project later this evening to brighten things up!
I got stuck behind the garbage truck on my own block today on the way home from an errand. Since garbage is at the forefront of my mind these days, I watched intently as the two sanitation workers collected the piles from both sides of the road. And, truth be told, I was sickened at what I saw people throwing away. Piles of cardboard boxes that they were too impatient to wait until Tuesday to put out for the recycling. Small pieces of perfectly good furniture that just needed to find a new home. A Christmas tree, even though our city offers not one, but two Christmas tree pickup days in January so they can be turned into mulch, and also offers two seasonal natural waste pickup times so things can be composted. The list goes on.
And to add insult to my emotional injury, I forgot to put out my own trash for pickup today. Nice.
This week, my trash bag contains:
**The disposable sleeping diapers mentioned last week
**Disposable wipes which I forgot to mention last week
**Bits and pieces of food from chicks, but far fewer than last week
**The random items I've collected in a bowl
As far as the diapers go, I'm working on it. I've had an incredibly generous offer for some free Fuzzibuns for Bojey for sleeping, and I'm still looking into what to do about Ninna. I'm hoping this last package of Bojey's disposables for sleeping will be the last I ever buy for her.
As far as wipes--I do actually have some cloth wipes I made based on a tutorial from Amanda Blake Soule's Handmade Home. The problem is that I only made a few, so I need to make several more. It's actually a fun, quick, and satisfying project, so I'll try to get on that this weekend.
As far as the bits of leftover food from my girls, I can say that starting out with tiny portions and adding from there has been very successful.
The real mystery is what to do about the random in-between items.
My bowl of random junk that I can't throw in the recycling bin this week contains:
**The plastic strip you peel off of the top of a frozen orange juice container
**The plastic fastener from a bag of rice cakes
**The plasticy/waxy backing from a sticker
**The thick plasticy tag from asparagus
**The foil/paper wrapper from a stick of butter
Clearly, the butter wrapper is going in the trash since it has food on it, which means it can be recycled, and it's totally gross, which means I'm not keeping it. I can see potential crafty purposes for the rice cake bag fastener and POSSIBLY even the asparagus tag (and Ninna has her heart set on keeping it since she plans to use it for a "progjec.") The other two things will never serve me any purpose. I could put them in the "junk box," a massive collection I've been working on for years that contains all kinds of goodies like the mesh bags I used for the bath toy bag. The truth, however, is that they'll never be used and eventually will be thrown away, so I'd rather just do it now rather than later.
The best solution to avoiding these types of things is, I suppose, to buy things without this kind of packaging. Since I've never even seen asparagus without a tag of some sort, organic or otherwise, I don't know exactly how you do that. Oh wait--yes! An urban homestead! If I grew my own asparagus, It certainly wouldn't come out of the ground with a label on it :).
Since my urban homestead is many, many years away from happening, I'll just do my best right now and save as much as I can for "progjecs."
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Oops! As I mentioned in my last "One Small Change" update, I'm keeping track of my trash in order to reduce its quantity. I intended to update on my progress each Friday, and I forgot to post last Friday. So here goes.
Last week, I threw away:
14 disposable sleeping diapers for Bojey
6 disposable diapers from laziness
14 disposable pull-up type sleeping diapers for Ninna
1 chicken carcass
1 hard boiled Easter Egg that a chick peeled and left laying around for a day
1 pizza box from pizza delivery
1 breadstick box from pizza delivery
bits of uneaten cheese, chicken, etc. from the chick's plates
Issues to contend with from last week's trash:
**Whoa. The diapers. I use cloth, but based on this accounting, it doesn't really look like it. There was a time when I only, ONLY used cloth. I did not own a single paper diaper, and I was full-time diapering two girls with this system. Two things led to the purchase of paper diapers. The first is that Bojey wets so thoroughly through her cloth diapers when she sleeps that it wakes her up. I use cotton prefolds and covers, and no matter how many layers I put in there, it's still insanely wet. I didn't have this problem with Ninna when she was small. I ended up trying paper diapers to see if they would work, and they did. I didn't want to use them, for all the reasons you might imagine, but I also thought it silly to buy more cloth diapers at this point. I am now seriously re-thinking this. If I buy a couple of expensive, super-absorbent pocket diapers/liners, that would still only equal the cost of a couple of months of paper diapers. And given the fact that I haven't even started to day-train her yet, which means she'll be in sleeping diapers for at least a year, it only makes sense to buy a couple of new diapers. Ninna doesn't fit in our cloth diapers anymore, and she won't be using them for that much longer, I'm sure, but it still might make sense to buy her some cloth. I'll have to think about it.
**The chicken carcass and gross Easter egg are the unfortunate items I have no solution for. They can't be put in the compost, so what else do you do with them?
**The pizza boxes: ahh, the lazy pizza delivery order. There's a really easy solution for this, right? And the truth is that while ordering out seems to be a good solution for a tired mama who didn't get dinner together in time, it's never really all that satisfying. And it's obviously not healthy, either. My solution, which I can't guarantee will be totally successful, is to double or triple my next batch of pizza and then freeze some so it's ready to pull out on those desperate occasions.
**The bits of uneaten, uncompostable food from the chick's plates: on the one hand, I could just eat them. On the other hand, I don't really need to be eating my own meal in addition to my chicks' uneaten food. The only solution I can really think of for this is to start them off with much smaller portions and give them more as they ask for it, which I'm trying to make an effort to do.
**The unmentioned "recycled" items: Doing this project made me come to a harsh realization. I have a tendency to throw anything into the bin that, in my imagination, might potentially be able to be recycled. I think somewhere in the back of my mind was the assumption that (since our bins are mixed--we don't separate by type) when the workers examine the contents and organize it, they'll know and get rid of the things that can't be recycled. Hmm. This isn't so good. In addition to the fact that they probably hate me for doing this, all it does is allow me to ignore the fact that what I'm really doing is throwing a heck of a lot of stuff away. I'm just allowing a middle-man, the recycling employee, to do it for me. If my goal is not simply to put a smaller trash bag on the street, but to truly lessen my impact on the planet, I can't continue in this way. So what I will do this week is pull out my pamphlet from the Montreal recycling services and tape it on the fridge. I will then TRULY examine each questionable item before throwing it into the recycling bin, and I'll decide on my next move.
This has been very eye-opening for me and has forced me to really examine my behaviors. I suspect that as a result of my cutting out the "middle man" with some of that recycling/trash that my next list will look a lot different from this one.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
A couple of weeks ago, the chicks and I went to a crazy pet store nearby called Safari. Safari is, on the one hand, one of those kind of depressing pet stores with the puppy mill puppies in little glass boxes and sad birds, like finches and toucans. On the other hand...it's a huge, huge room full of animals of all kinds, including toucans! So while I was conflicted about taking the chicks there, I knew without a doubt that they'd enjoy the animals. I also had a sneaking suspicion that some gift money they had was burning such a big hole in our pockets that it might end up being used for a pet. And so enters Taco.
I worried when we brought him home that he might end up being more of an annoyance than anything, and my brother responded to the pet announcement with "Good, it's good you're getting this out of their system early. I had a hamster once, and he was the worst. pet. ever."
But lo and behold, we love Taco! All three of us! The girls adore him, and when I'm home alone, I'm strangely comforted by his little pitter pattering in his cage. He has also turned into a great learning experience, covering all of these areas and more:
**Biology: Ninna already knew what a nocturnal animal was, but now she sees it in action every day and talks about it often. Taco is awake sometimes during the day, usually after we feed him or bug him to wake up, but he sleeps much more during the day and is awake much more at night. Ninna has taken to calling him "the nocturnal."
**Nutrition: Nutrition is a already huge topic in our house, but Taco gives us more to talk about. Ninna has noted that water is extremely important to his diet, as it is to ours. The best part of all is that she gets to feed him a fresh veggie by hand every day. It's seriously the cutest thing I've ever seen. Today Taco was eating a carrot while both girls sat next to him munching on apples.
**Personal Responsibility: Ninna has two Taco-related jobs--to feed him his veggie every day, and to clean his cage once a week. She does an amazing job with his cage. I dump the cedar into the compost bin and disassemble the removable parts in his cage, and she washes them all and then washes the bottom of the cage. She is totally meticulous in this work and very proud of her jobs.
**Compassion: Both girls know the importance of being gentle with Taco, not bumping or banging his cage, etc.
Here's Ninna (in her swim cap) washing his ladder:
And pouring in his new cedar shavings:I can't believe it took me this long to get them a pet! I imagine we'll be adding to our menagerie sometime soon, given the success of this venture.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Insane Bath Toy Bag
And here's the link to her site:
Making Do with the Not so New
EDITED TO ADD: If anyone else feels compelled to make one of these, send me photos and I'll post them. I'd love to see someone else make this craziness.
Monday, April 5, 2010
I almost never made it past the first try. I was so repulsed by how much this naked, fleshy bird looked like my naked, fleshy newborn that I could hardly stand to cook it. Nightmarish memories of processing a never-ending line of rotisserie chickens at a supermarket deli as a teenager came rushing back to me. But when I finally tasted that first bite when the chicken was finished, I was hooked. I encourage everyone to try cooking their chickens whole, and here's why:
1. Eating chicken from a whole roasted chicken tastes infinitely better than eating pre-cut bits and pieces of chicken. This has to be the number one reason. I'm not even sure I can explain why, but it's far juicier and far more flavorful. There really is no comparison. To me it's like store-bought sliced bread versus freshly baked bread. You know which one you would choose.
2. It's cheaper. I only buy organic meat, so it's expensive, but it's much cheaper than buying pre-cut chicken. I just checked the price online at our awesome organic grocery store, Ecollegey, and it's 20% cheaper than buying a whole cut up chicken, and it's about 55% cheaper than buying boneless chicken breast (which is what I used to buy and what I suspect lots of other beginning cooks buy).
3. When you're done with the chicken, you make chicken stock and you'll never, ever need to buy chicken stock again. I roasted a chicken for dinner this afternoon, and as I type this, the carcass (yeah, it sounds disgusting) is simmering in a large pot on the stove with some veggies to make chicken stock. This is yet another reason why a whole chicken is economical as well. Organic chicken stock is relatively expensive, but since I started making my own stock, I've never had to buy it, and I probably never will. I make so much stock that I have more than I need, and I add it to things like rice and couscous all the time to increase the flavor and nutritional value.
4. You and your children are ever so slightly more connected to your food source. One of the things that has always bothered me about the modern way of eating meat is that it is very easy to pretend you aren't really even eating an animal, and to me this is problematic on a number of levels. The neatly wrapped small pink pieces of meat in the grocery store in no way resemble the animals from which they came. When you buy a whole chicken, you're looking at an almost-complete animal (minus head, feet, and feathers). And yes, it can be a little startling if you've never done it before. But it also somehow feels more respectful of the animal, and it's great for kids to see what the animal really looks like underneath its feathers. Today, while watching me take the rest of the meat off of the bones, Ninna asked me why the eyeballs were gone and where the kneecaps were (do chickens even have kneecaps?). It was so clear to me that she understood that she was eating an animal, and what that meant. If I'm going to feed my children meat, I don't want them to take that for granted. I want them to understand what that means, both in small terms and bigger terms.
5. It forces you to be creative in your cooking. One chicken feeds me and the chicks for three dinners. This means we're eating chicken three days in a row. I don't like to feed us the same dinner every day, so I make 2-3 different chicken meals, using whatever else we have around (unless I plan for something specific, like chicken enchiladas.)
6. It's so easy! Really--it's incredibly, incredibly easy. There are lots of great roasted chicken recipes out there, but the general gist is that you apply some herbs and a little oil, and you stick it in the oven. Honestly, I think it's one of the least labor-intensive things I cook.
And there you have it. I thought cooking a whole chicken seemed like a huge task until I did it. To me, one of the greatest scams of the last, say, seventy years, is that we've all been convinced that cooking real food from scratch is not something most people can do, and that we need corporations to handle it for us (to chop our chicken, to bake our bread, to make our soup, and so on). One great way to start to take back control of your own kitchen is to roast a chicken. No, it's not the same as killing the chicken and plucking its feathers yourself, but it's a step in the right direction. It feels like such a real, substantial cooking experience, and you'll be happy you did it.
This post has been linked to Steady Mom's 30 Minute Blog Challenge.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
**Sewing fabric modular roads for Matchbox cars at 733. My chicks love cars, and I could see them playing with these for hours. It's definitely on my to-do list.
**4 Simple Skills to Practice During Read-Alouds at Let's Explore. It's a great reminder of very simple things we can do to encourage the different aspects of literacy, even for pre-readers.
**Making Plastic Bag Transfers at Filth Wizardry. This is one of two or three posts she did in a row on repurposing disposable plastic shopping bags to make iron-on transfers. It's pretty cool. And if you've never been to her blog, you must go. She does some of the craziest, large-scale, unbelievably cool preschool and early elementary level activities.
What would I do without the internet? I don't even know. I'm so glad I can jump on and find cool stuff like this!
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I vowed to REALLY take out the compost, and not just pretend I'm doing it. We're doing awesome on this one. The warm weather definitely helps.
I vowed to stop using the clothes dryer. I've been back and forth on this one. Now that it's getting warm, it will be much easier, but I need to work harder to hang the clothes indoors when the weather isn't nice. That's the true test.
I vowed to start eating seasonally. I knew this was a huge undertaking, and not really a "small" change, but it's something I've wanted to do for ages. Obviously we have not just suddenly shifted to only eating seasonally, but we did three things this month that will help jump start our seasonal eating:
1. We signed up for a CSA called Ferme Mange-Tout. I'm really excited about this. We'll have a seasonal basket from June to October. My neighbor and I signed up together this year to share a basket so we can see what this CSA is like before making a bigger commitment. In order to make things cheaper, we signed up for a working share. While we likely will be taking a turn working at the drop-off point, there is the possibility of working on the actual farm. Either way, we are welcome to set up an appointment to bring the kids to the farm. I'm so excited about this, as I really want my chicks to know where their food is coming from.
2. We signed up to work at a community garden once a week. We have a great association with lots of gardens around the city, and there happens to be one near us that is designed for children. It's a real garden, and we grow and harvest organic food (and split the harvest among ourselves each week), but you bring your kids with you, and they can either help garden or play in a special play area. We tried to do this last year, but Bojey was still small and firmly taking two naps a day. It was nearly impossible as she couldn't nap in the stroller there and ended up crying the entire time. I only ended up going a few times, but now, everyone is big, and we can go. I can't wait.
3. We planted the beginnings of our own garden. We've planted about ten varieties of seeds so far, and at this point we have sprouts of sage, lavender, and oregano. We're planting more all the time as we near the projected last frost.
We're still only just beginning to scratch the surface of eating seasonally, but I definitely feel like we're going in the right direction, and we've done as much as we could possibly do in a month.
Now, moving on to April
I'm so excited about my idea! As I was taking out the trash this week, it hit me--my trash bags are too full. Why do I have so much trash, when it's just me and two little girls, and we compost? So I'm going to do an experiment over the next month and document EVERY item I put in the trash, and reflect on how I could prevent it in the future. I'll post an update every Friday on what we threw away, what we found a way NOT to throw away, and how we are planning to generate less trash in the future.
So my April small change is that we will begin to consciously decrease the output of trash from our home.